NatureStart™ Professional Development Courses

Go Play... Outside!

Central to the NatureStart approach is that time spent with nature should be based in play and exploration. Learning goals can be connected to nature experiences, including socal-emotional learning, language and literacy, math and science, social studies and culture, as well as many others. However, there is inherent value in time spent playing and exploring with nature in and of itself.

In addition to fostering environmental stewardship, spending time in nature is essential for children’s physical, cognitive, emotional, and social development. Yet, urban sprawl, growing concerns about children’s safety, a technology explosion, and a trend toward structured and indoor play activities, separate children from nature.

MarilynProven Leadership

NatureStart Professional Development is designed and led by the Chicago Zoological Society and provides research-based professional practice in conservation and inclusive nature play programming. We have assembled a dedicated, talented, and multidisciplinary team of educators with backgrounds in the arts, sciences, early childhood education, and informal learning. We teach how to deliver effective programs and environments that increase young children's opportunties for play, exploration, and discovery in nature.
Millions of children benefit from our groundbreaking play programs that engage families in interactions with animals, plants, and nature in developmentally rich settings. We find nature where it exists around us and create new opportunities for nature play and exploration. 

Endorsements from NatureStart participants: 

"It's amazing. Right here in urban Chicago, we have preschoolers who really appreciate that they are natural beings who are an integral part of the natural world."

--Mary Crane Center, Head Start program (Chicago), director of education


"Our institution is not only gaining experience we can bring to our audiences, we are now also seen as leaders in our community. Most importantly, we are helping to expand the improvement of early childhood education and the ways in which children connect to the natural world."

--Greenville Zoo (South Carolina), education program coordinator

"NatureStart has become something that we are, not something that we do. We have made changes and have personalized what we learned to our own unique institution. The families really share time together and are so close to nature." 

-- Fundación Temaikèn (Argentina), recreation activities supervisor



Woodland Park Zoo

October 25-27, 2019 from 9:00 AM to 4:00 pm; $750/person
(Early Bird price of $550 if you register by September 30!)
Location:  Woodland Park Zoo, Seattle, WA

  Hawthorn Hollow

NatureStart Mini Conference at Hawthorn Hollow

November 15, 2019 from 9 a.m. to noon; $60/person
Location:  Hawthorn Hollow Nature Center, Kenosha, WI



Zoo Tampa at Lowry Park

February 7-9, 2020 from 9:00 AM to 4:00 pm;  $750/person
(Early Bird price of $550 if you register by December 15!)
Location: Zoo Tampa at Lowry Park, Tampa, FL


Los Angeles Zoo

March 11-13, 2020 from 9:00 AM to 4:00 pm; $750/person
(Early Bird price of $550 if you register by February 15!)
Location:  Los Angeles Zoo, Los Angeles, CA


BZLargeC.pngBrookfield Zoo

April 21-23, 2020 (Required) from 9:00 AM to 4:30 pm; $750/person
(Early Bird price of $550 if you register by April 1!)
April 24, 2020 (Optional) from 9:00 AM - 2:00 PM; $200/person
(Early Bird price of $150 if you register by April 1!)
Location:  Brookfield Zoo, Brookfield, IL

Click here to learn more about the Brookfield Zoo session, including information on available accommodations. 


Denver Zoo

June 18-20, 2020 from 9:00 AM to 4:00 pm; $750/person
(Early Bird price of $550 if you register by May 15!)
Location:  Denver Zoo, Denver, CO


NatureStart Ladybug

For additional details please contact Marilyn Brink at

NatureStart participants that do not show up for their registered session or choose to leave early on one or more training days will not be granted a refund.